*Just a gentle warning, this review may contain small spoilers*
I love Graham Norton. He’s one of my favourite broadcasters – whether that be on the television or the radio. His soothing voice, his brilliant and hilarious personality, his warmth and his intelligence. Frankly, with Graham, you know you’re in safe hands.
A Keeper is his second novel after his first novel, Holding, went to critical and commercial acclaim. So, what’s A Keeper, his latest novel all about? Here’s the blurb:
The truth drifts out to sea, riding the waves out of sight. And then the tide turns.
Elizabeth Keane returns to Ireland after her mother’s death, intent only on wrapping up that dismal part of her life. There is nothing here for her; she wonders if there ever was. The house of her childhood is stuffed full of useless things, her mother’s presence already fading. And perhaps, had she not found the small stash of letters, the truth would never have come to light.
40 years earlier, a young woman stumbles from a remote stone house, the night quiet but for the tireless wind that circles her as she hurries further into the darkness away from the cliffs and the sea. She has no sense of where she is going, only that she must keep on.
This compelling new novel confirms Graham Norton’s status as a fresh, literary voice, bringing his clear-eyed understanding of human nature and its darkest flaws.
I loved Holding. It was full of character and Graham Norton, through his broadcasting, has a great sense of people; and all sorts of people, too. But for me, A Keeper is more interesting and a better novel overall. It feels as if Norton is more confident with a second novel (whereas some authors probably run away in fear of the ‘second album’ feeling) but in A Keeper, it’s richer, it’s darker, it’s addictive, it’s passionate. But it still has the heart and soul of the first novel.
Graham Norton has a beautiful writing style and tone of voice. With his dulcet Irish tones, you can hear that singing from the pages. It’s calming, reassuring, relaxing – even in the darkest sides of the story. At first, if I’m being honest, I found it quite difficult to get into. It felt a bit *too* slow for me. But then the story gets turned upside down and is moulded into something familiar but brand new at the same time. With this, I realise the point of it being *too slow*. He has established the characters, the setting, the timelines and the difference of narratives. But also, it’s slow for a purpose. To make you believe one thing for you to actually find out something a lot darker than you might expect. I don’t want to spoil it for you because it was a massive ‘Oh shit!’ moment that I think is best when you are reading it. But the twists and turns doesn’t stop there – they keep going – right through to the very end…
A Keeper has an interesting structure. We go back and forth to the past and present as Elizabeth, our main character, is trying to figure out her family history. Meanwhile, in the past, we follow Elizabeth’s mother Patricia, as she falls in love and is heading for a nasty surprise… In some books, this can be a bit of a gimmick or it just doesn’t gel well with the rest of the book, but it really works here. Through Elizabeth, we understand more about Patricia, and through Patricia, we understand more about Elizabeth. There are similar themes and messages that are both present in Elizabeth’s story as well as Patricia’s.
There’s some great themes at play in this novel, too. From motherhood, to love, a mother/son relationship, grief, perseverance, finding out who you really are, and the light, even in the darkness. This is a dark book at places but it’s not a dark and depressing book overall. I think the most important theme in the book is motherhood, especially between mother and son. From Elizabeth dealing with her son’s problems to Edward and his mother. But also motherhood in general, with both Elizabeth and Patricia exploring that theme.
This is a beautiful book that really explores family roots and one’s own history. It is full of Graham Norton’s typical warmth and wit and his beautiful observations of people. He really understands people and gets under their skin and sees what makes them tick. It’s a book that will lead you one way and then take you somewhere completely different to what you might expect. It’s dark in places but also shows the power of oneself in the worst situations. If you loved Graham’s first novel, Holding, you’d love this even more. A beautiful, heartbreaking exploration of finding out who you are and your roots, but as Graham writes, the truth has deep roots…
A Keeper is also part of BBC Radio 2’s new bookclub with Sara Cox so why not get involved and read along?
Have you read A Keeper? What did you think? Are you a fan of Graham Norton’s novels? Let me know in the comments!